Interview with Bert Kimura: TCC 2009 April 14-16

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

The following ETC interview with Bert Kimura, coordinator of the annual TCC (Technology, Colleges and Community) Worldwide Online Conference, the longest running virtual conference, was conducted via email on April 7-8, 2009. Dr. Kimura, a professor at Osaka Gakuin University, orchestrates the completely online event from Japan. The theme of the 14th annual conference is “The New Internet: Collaborative Learning, Social Networking, Technology Tools, and Best Practices.” It will be held on April 14-16, 2009. TCC is a conference designed for university and college practitioners including faculty, academic support staff, counselors, student services personnel, students, and administrators.

Question: What’s the theme of this year’s conference and, more specifically, why did you choose it?

The Internet world is abuzz with social networking and Web 2.0 technologies and, recently, its impact on teaching and learning. We thought that this focus would be appropriate for faculty along with what their colleagues have been doing with these technologies in their (i.e., the early adopters’) classrooms.

TCC coordinators pay attention to the Horizon Report published annually by the New Media Consortium and EduCause. Two years ago, the report cited social media as a technology to have short term impact on teaching and learning.

bert_kimura2Question: What are the primary advantages of online vs. F2F conferences?

1. Ability to “attend” all conference sessions, including the ability to review sessions and content material.
2. No travel expenses or time lost from the workplace.
3. No need to obtain travel approval and submit complex documents to meet administration and/or business office requirements.

Question: What are some innovative or new features that you’ve added to TCC?

1. Live sessions have made the conference alive, i.e., people seem to like knowing that others are doing the same thing at the same time. Through these sessions they can interact with each other through the “back door,” a background chat that is going on simultaneously; this is the same as speaking to your neighbor when sitting in a large plenary session at a conference. Additionally all sessions are recorded and made exclusively available for review to registered participants for six months.
2. Collaboration with LearningTimes. The LearningTimes CEO and president are very savvy technically and hands-on, and they understand how educators work, how tech support should be provided, and they provide an excellent online help desk to conference participants, especially presenters. Their staff support responds quickly and accurately to participant queries. They also respond graciously and encouragingly to those with much less technical savvy.
3. Paper proceedings (peer reviewed papers). We believe that this is one way to raise the credibility of this event and make it accessible to a broader higher education audience. Research institutions still require traditional (and peer reviewed) publications for tenure and promotion. However, by publishing entirely online, we also promote a newer genre. Proceedings can be found at: http://etec.hawaii.edu/proceedings/
4. Inclusion of graduate student presentations. We feel that we need to invest in the future and that TCC can also become a learning laboratory for graduate students. Grad students, especially if they are at the University of Hawai`i, may have much greater difficulty in getting to F2F conferences than faculty.

Question: What’s the secret to TCC’s success?

1. Great collaboration among faculty, worldwide, to bring this event together. We have over 50 individuals that assist in one way or another — advisory panel, proposal reviews (general presentations, e.g., poster sessions), paper proceedings editorial board, editors (writing faculty that review and edit descriptions), session facilitators, and a few others.
2. Quality of presentations — they are interesting, timely, and presented by peers, for and about peers.
3. Continuity and satisfaction among participants. Our surveys (see Additional Sources below) consistently show very high rates of satisfaction. We have managed to persist, and TCC is recognized as the longest running online (virtual) conference.
4. Group rates for participation — i.e., a single charge for an entire campus or system.
5. TCC provides a viable professional development venue for those that encounter difficulty with travel funding.

Question: What are the highlight keynotes, presentations, workshops, etc. for this year’s conference?

See tcc2009.wikispaces.com for the current conference program, presentation descriptions, etc. For keynote sessions, see http://tcc2009.wikispaces.com/Keynote+sessions

tsurukabuto_kobe
“Sakura in early morning. Taking out the trash was pleasant this morning.”
iPhone2 photo (8 April 2009) and caption by Bert Kimura. A view of cherry
blossoms from his apartment in Tsurukabuto, Nada-ku, Kobe, Japan.
See his Kimubert photo gallery.

Question: What’s the outlook for online conferences in general? Are they growing in popularity? Will they eventually surpass F2F conferences? If they’re not growing or are developing slowly, what are some of the obstacles?

At the moment, I’m not sure about the outlook — there are more virtual individual events or hybrid conferences, but not many more, if any, that are entirely online. One thing that is clear is many established F2F conferences are adding or considering streaming live sessions. Some openly indicate that a virtual presentation is an option.

The biggest challenge is the view that online events should be “free,” i.e., they should use funding models that do not charge participants directly. For an event that is associated with a public institution such as the University of Hawai`i (Kapi`olani Community College), it is impossible to use “micro revenue” funding models because institutional business procedures do not accommodate them easily.

Likewise, there is no rush among potential vendors to sponsor single online events. I have been talking with LearningTimes, our partners, to see if a sponsor “package” might be possible, where, for a single fee, a vendor might be able to sponsor multiple online conferences.

Even with 50+ volunteers, a revenue stream is vital to assure continuity. We operate on a budget that is one-twentieth or less of that for a traditional three-day F2F conference. Without volunteers, we could not do this.

Question: What are the prospects for presentations in different languages in future TCC conferences? If this is already a feature, has it been successful? Do you see it growing?

At the moment and with our current audience, there has not been an expressed need for this. However, if we were to target an event for a particular audience (e.g., Japan or China), then we would need to provide a support infrastructure, i.e., captioning and/or simultaneous interpretation.

On the other hand, the Elluminate Live interface that we use for live sessions does allow the user to view the interface and menus in his native language. Elluminate is gradually widening its support of other languages. Having experienced the use of another language interface, Japanese, I find that it makes a big difference to see menu items and dialogue boxes in your native language.

Question: Tell us about your international participants. Has language been a barrier for their participation?

– So far language has not been a challenge. It might be that those who suspect that it will be don’t register. Some, I think, see this as an opportunity to practice their English skills.
– International participants are much fewer in number (less than 10 percent). We’ve had presenters from Saudi Arabia, UK, Scandinavia, Brasil (this year’s keynoter), Australia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Canada, Israel, Abu Dabi,  Greece, India, as well as other countries.
– In some regions such as Asia (Japan is the example that I’m most knowledgeable about) personal relationships make the difference in terms of participation. On the other hand, it is difficulty for a foreigner, even if s/he lives in the target country, to establish personal networks. I have been able to do this gradually over the past seven years — but it is still, by far, not enough to draw a significant number (even with complimentary passes) to the event. In Japan, it also coincides with the start of the first semester (second week of classes) and, consequently, faculty are busy with regular duties. If we were to hold this event in the first week of September, the effect would be the same for the US. We would have difficulty attracting good quality presentations and papers that, in turn, will draw audiences to the event.

Question: What’s in the works in terms of new features for future conferences?

– Greater involvement with graduate students as presenters and conference staff. It provides TCC with manpower and, at the same time, TCC serves as a valuable learning laboratory for students.
– Events, either regional or global, on occasion, to keep the community interacting with one another throughout the year.
– Some sort of ongoing social communications medium to keep the community informed or to share expertise among members on a regular basis (e.g., a blog, twitter, etc.)

[End of interview.]
_________________________
The official registration period for TCC 2009 is closed, but you can still register online at https://skellig.kcc.hawaii.edu/tccreg
The homepage for the event can be found at http://tcc.kcc.hawaii.edu

Additional Sources: For additional information about the annual TCC conference, see the following papers presented at the 2006 and 2008 Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) Distance Learning and the Internet (DLI) conferences at Toudai and Waseda: Online Conferences and Workshops: Affordable & Ubiquitous Learning Opportunities for Faculty Development, by Bert Y. Kimura and Curtis P. Ho; Evolution of a Virtual Worldwide Conference on Online Teaching, by Curtis P. Ho, Bert Kimura, and Shigeru Narita.

A Model for Integrating New Technology into Teaching

By Anita Pincas
Guest Author

I have been an internet watcher ever since I first got involved with online communications in the late 1980s, when it was called computer conferencing. And through having to constantly update my Online Education & Training course since 1992, I’ve had the opportunity to see how educational approaches to the use of the internet, and after it, the world wide web, have evolved. Although history doesn’t give us the full answers to anything, it suggests frameworks for looking at events, so I ‘d like to propose a couple of models for understanding the latest developments in technology and how they relate to learning and teaching.

First, there seem to be three broad areas in which to observe the new technology. This is a highly compressed sketch of some key points:

1. Computing as Such

Here we have an on-going series of improvements which have made it ever easier for the user to do things without technical knowledge. There is a long line of changes from the early days before the mouse, when we had to remember commands (Control +  X for delete, Control +  B for bold, etc.), to the clicks we can use now, and the automation of many functions such as bullet points, paragraphing, and so on. The most recent and most powerful of these developments is, of course, cloud computing, which roughly means computer users being able to do what they need on the internet without understanding what lies behind it (in the clouds). Publishing in a blog, indeed on the web in general, is one of the most talked about examples of this at the moment. The other is the ability to handle video materials. Both are having an enormous impact on the world in general in terms of information flow, as well as, more slowly, on educational issues. Artificial intelligence, robotics, and “smart” applications are on the way too.

2. Access to and Management of Knowledge

This has been vastly enlarged through simple increase in quantity, which itself has been made possible by the computing advances that allow users to generate content, relatively easy searches, and open access publishing that cuts the costs. Library systems are steadily renewing themselves, and information that was previously unobtainable in practice has become commonplace on the web (e.g. commercial and governmental matters, the tacit knowledge of every day life, etc.). As the semantic web comes into being, we can see further advances in our ability to connect items and areas of knowledge.

3. Communications and Social Networking

We can now use the internet – whether on a desktop or laptop or small mobile – to communicate 1 to 1, or 1 to many, or many to many by voice, text and multimedia. And this can be either synchronous or asynchronous across the globe. The result has been an explosion of opportunities to network individually, socially and commercially. Even in education, we can already see that the VLE is giving way to the PLE (personal learning environment) where learners network with others and construct and share their own knowledge spaces.

For teachers there is pressure not to be seen as out of date, but with too little time or help, they need a simple, structured way of approaching the new technological opportunities on their own. The bridge between the three areas of development should be a practical model of teaching and learning. I use one which the teachers who participate in my courses regularly respond to and validate. It sees learning and teaching in terms of three processes:

  1. acquiring knowledge or skills or attitudes,
  2. activating these, and
  3. obtaining feedback on the acquisition and activation.

I start off by viewing any learning/teaching event as a basic chronological sequence of 3Ps:

But this basic template is open to infinite variation. This occurs by horizontal and vertical changes. The horizontal variations are: the order in which the three elements occur; the repetition of any one of them in any order; the embedding of any sequence within any other sequence. The vertical changes are in how each of the three elements is realised. So the model can generate many different styles of teaching and ways of learning, e.g., problem based, discovery based, and so on.

Finally, this is where the bridge to technology comes in. If a teacher starts from the perceived needs in the teaching and learning of the subject, and then systematically uses the 3Ps to ask:

  • What technology might help me make the content available to the learners? [P1]
  • What technology might help me activate their understanding/use of the new content? [P2]
  • What technology might help me evaluate and give the learners feedback on their understanding or use? [P3]

then we have needs driving the use of the technology, and not the other way around.

Here is a simple example of one way of organising problem based learning:

(Click on the table to zoom in.)

I have developed the model with its many variations in some detail for my courses. Things get quite complex when you try to cover lots of different teaching and learning needs under the three slots. And linking what the learners do, or want to do, or fail to do, etc., with what the teacher does is particularly important. Nevertheless, I find that my three areas of new development plus the 3P scaffolding make things rational rather than being a let’s-just-try-this approach. Perhaps equally important, it serves as a template to observe reports of teaching methods and therefore a very useful tool for evaluation. I have never yet found a teaching/learning event that could not be understood and analysed quickly this way.

An Interview with Terry Anderson: Open Education Resources – Part II

boettcher80By Judith V. Boettcher
Guest Author

[Continued from Part I]

[Note: After listening to Terry’s description of how the crowd’s activity might be used to produce new information, I learned that Google announced a new tool on November 12 called the “Google Flu Tracker.” It tracks flu trends across the country by using aggregated Google search data to estimate flu activity! This service was developed after learning that “certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity”! -JB]

JB: It sounds as if we are on the brink of a number of new models, both for producing, using and paying for educational content. But let’s switch gears a little. Just as the net is changing how the crowd may be creating content, online courses are starting to use content in new ways. We have types of content: published content; “found content” for information that students bring to the course community; and we have the performance and teaching direction content, which students and faculty create during the course. What do you think the role of content is in a course today? What percent of a course is actually published content?

TA: Publishers are concerned that students are not buying the textbook, and faculty are saying that students who do buy the textbook are not reading the textbook. What I think is an important opportunity is giving students the option of creating and sharing their own conception of the course knowledge.

JB: Have you been sharing student-created content from year to year as yet?

TA: Not yet. I am encouraged by the use of a new system that we are using at Athabasca. The system is Elgg, a social networking tool that can be used by smaller communities. We wanted a system that was institution-centric rather than course-centric.

What I really like about ELGG is the permissions options. You use a menu to control access to any piece of information that you post, such as a phone number, blog posting or wiki entry. For example, the first option is to keep it private, just for yourself, then you might keep it to yourself and a friend, then to the people in your course, your teacher, people at your university, or Google or the world. Some things you want public, and some you want to keep private. You can’t resolve that on an institutional policy basis. It seems that having students in control and being knowledgeable about that control is the way to go.

theory_practiceWe use this for portfolios and graduation type of assignments so it really helps with getting content out of the LMS [learning management system]. You can show your work to your mother or anyone else who cares.

JB: Do you link to Elgg from your LMS, then?

TA: Yes, and what I have been doing this last term as an experiment is weaning students away from the discussion board environment to the blogging environment in Elgg. Blogging is not as good for threaded discussions, but then threaded discussions don’t allow people outside the course to pop in and read, contribute and comment. I use Moodle for the drop box, assignments, study guides, course content, and other non-interactive kinds of course pieces.

JB: Terry, let’s go back to your own book that you have made available on the net. Why did you make your book freely available online?

TA: The publication of the first edition of the The Theory and Practice of Online Learning was an experiment as it was published in both print copy and made available as a free download. The 400 copies of the printed version sold quickly, and in the first month there were about 6,000 to 7,000 downloads of the book. Over the years it has been online, there have been about 90,000 downloads, and portions of the book have been translated into five languages.

We now have a second edition out, and we are using the same model. The book and its individual chapters continue to be freely available online under a Creative Commons license. People are still downloading the first edition, but I would like to wean folks from the older version. The second edition has four new chapters, including chapters on Mobile Learning and Social Software and is available from the Athabasca University Press.

JB: So, does the freely downloadable option stimulate sales of the printed copy?

TA: I think that is an open question. We just don’t know. I do know that making it freely downloadable increases exposure and access. As for other models, I don’t know what the impact of the Amazon Kindle Reader will have. One thing I am disappointed about is the small price differential that is common on the Kindle books. But we will just have to keep experimenting I think.

JB: Terry, thanks so much for your time, your insights and your ongoing exploration and testing of the use of open education resources.